Down with Brown!

Zachary Christie, a well-behaved six year old boy in Newark, Delaware, brought to school a camping utensil that can serve as a fork, spoon, and knife in order to use it at lunch. Under the school’s zero tolerance policy against bringing weapons to school, he has been suspended and faces 45 days in reform school. The New York Times reports that while officials aren’t happy about the extreme punishment, they are barred from using discretion in the case, for this reason:

Education experts say that zero-tolerance policies initially allowed authorities more leeway in punishing students, but were applied in a discriminatory fashion. Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses.

Curiously, Newark, a city of 30,000, has a black population of only six percent. But apparently that six percent causes such troubles in the schools, and the discipline imposed on that six percent seems so “unfair” and “discriminatory,” that the other 94 percent of pupils must be deprived of any discretion in the way they’re punished in order to remove any possibility that the six percent black minority might be treated in a discriminatory fashion.

Zachary Christie, danger to the public schools

There are only two solutions to this mess: either we reject the liberal ideology of comprehensive non-discrimination which requires such outrages as the automatic 45 day suspension of a well-behaved six year old for bringing a camping utensil to school; or we overthrow the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (which was not based on the Constitution but on judicial diktat) and allow local school districts to segregate schools by race. Such local policies, by placing blacks and whites in different schools with different educational and disciplinary approaches appropriate to each race, would eliminate the utopian demand for equal academic and disciplinary outcomes between the races. Of course, allowing school segregation by race would also mean rejecting the liberal ideology of comprehensive non-discrimination. Within liberalism, there is no solution.

October 12, 2009
It’s a Fork, It’s a Spoon, It’s a … Weapon?

NEWARK, Del.—Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiance by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.

“It just seems unfair,” Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.

Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far.

But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases?

“Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously,” said Debbie Christie, Zachary’s mother, who started a Web site,, in hopes of recruiting supporters to pressure the local school board at its next open meeting on Tuesday. “He is not some sort of threat to his classmates.”

Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students.

“There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

Critics contend that zero-tolerance policies like those in the Christina district have led to sharp increases in suspensions and expulsions, often putting children on the streets or in other places where their behavior only worsens, and that the policies undermine the ability of school officials to use common sense in handling minor infractions.

For Delaware, Zachary’s case is especially frustrating because last year state lawmakers tried to make disciplinary rules more flexible by giving local boards authority to, “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.”

The law was introduced after a third-grade girl was expelled for a year because her grandmother had sent a birthday cake to school, along with a knife to cut it. The teacher called the principal—but not before using the knife to cut and serve the cake.

In Zachary’s case, the state’s new law did not help because it mentions only expulsion and does not explicitly address suspensions. A revised law is being drafted to include suspensions.

“We didn’t want our son becoming the poster child for this,” Ms. Christie said, “but this is out of control.”

In a letter to the district’s disciplinary committee, State Representative Teresa L. Schooley, Democrat of Newark, wrote, “I am asking each of you to consider the situation, get all the facts, find out about Zach and his family and then act with common sense for the well-being of this child.”

Education experts say that zero-tolerance policies initially allowed authorities more leeway in punishing students, but were applied in a discriminatory fashion. Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses.

“The result of those studies is that more school districts have removed discretion in applying the disciplinary policies to avoid criticism of being biased,” said Ronnie Casella, an associate professor of education at Central Connecticut State University who has written about school violence. He added that there is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer.

Other school districts are also trying to address problems they say have stemmed in part from overly strict zero-tolerance policies.

In Baltimore, around 10,000 students, about 12 percent of the city’s enrollment, were suspended during the 2006-7 school year, mostly for disruption and insubordination, according to a report by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. School officials there are rewriting the disciplinary code, to route students to counseling rather than suspension.

In Milwaukee, where school officials reported that 40 percent of ninth graders had been suspended at least once in the 2006-7 school year, the superintendent has encouraged teachers not to overreact to student misconduct.

“Something has to change,” said Dodi Herbert, whose 13-year old son, Kyle, was suspended in May and ordered to attend the Christina district’s reform school for 45 days after another student dropped a pocket knife in his lap. School officials declined to comment on the case for reasons of privacy.

Ms. Herbert, who said her son was a straight-A student, has since been home-schooling him instead of sending him to the reform school.

The Christina school district attracted similar controversy in 2007 when it expelled a seventh-grade girl who had used a utility knife to cut windows out of a paper house for a class project.

Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the University at Buffalo Law School who has written about school safety issues, said he favored a strict zero-tolerance approach.

“There are still serious threats every day in schools,” Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make.

In the 2005-6 school year, 86 percent of public schools reported at least one violent crime, theft or other crime, according to the most recent federal survey.

And yet, federal studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another by the Department of Justice show that the rate of school-related homicides and nonfatal violence has fallen over most of the past decade.

Educational experts say the decline is less a result of zero-tolerance policies than of other programs like peer mediation, student support groups and adult mentorships, as well as an overall decrease in all forms of crime.

For Zachary, it is not school violence that has left him reluctant to return to classes.

“I just think the other kids may tease me for being in trouble,” he said, pausing before adding, “but I think the rules are what is wrong, not me.”

- end of initial entry -

Jeff Siegel writes:

At the rate you’re going, you’re never gonna get that NFL franchise. Not happening.

Leonard D. writes:

There are surely more options for reform than either race-based discrimination or pure discretion. The problem here is stupidly overbroad application of stupid rules. Thus, any solution must involve discrimination of some sort. But there is a range of discrimination between individual cases and discrimination based on overbroad categories such as race.

In the particular case here, it would seem to me that the problem is the “zero tolerance” rule to begin with, at least as applied to little children. Is there even a single instance of a pre-pubescent child being intentionally victimized by another child using a knife in a school? [LA replies: Are you kidding? You’re not aware of violent crime by pre-pubescent blacks?] Certainly the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, which supposedly spurred this stupid rule, would suggest at most zero tolerance against older kids. Of course, as I previously stated, discriminating between young children and pubescent children is discrimination. So it is a solution that does “reject the ideology of comprehensive non-discrimination”. But it is, at least, far more palatable to a liberal than racial discrimination.

By the way, in the NYT article this section jumped out at me as a wonderful exemplar of the craziness of liberalism in action:

The law was introduced after a third-grade girl was expelled for a year because her grandmother had sent a birthday cake to school, along with a knife to cut it. The teacher called the principal—but not before using the knife to cut and serve the cake.

Talk about compartmentalization and the unprincipled exception.

LA replies:

Indeed. Without the unprincipled exception, they wouldn’t have been able to eat their cake and have their liberalism!

Jonathan W. writes:

I don’t agree with Leonard’s argument that a solution to this type of problem is possible without some degree of race discrimination. In this particular case, I agree that zero tolerance rules are a problem in and of themselves.. However, consider the following situations. Suppose a restaurant in a crime-ridden area has a problem with black patrons running out of the restaurant without paying their bills. Since the restaurants are not legally allowed to “discriminate” and require that black customers pay first, and are also understandably not willing to take the losses that result from customers not paying their bill, they instead implement policies that ALL customers have to pay first.

Another example you have written about extensively involves profiling at airports. Since profiling Arab males would be “discrimination,” and since as a society we are not willing to tolerate terrorism, we instead create policies requiring all airline customers to endure harassment before being allowed on a plane.

There are numerous other examples like this. Ever since Brown v. Board of Ed, schools cannot legally be segregated by race. However, white parents are not willing to tolerate the disproportional bad behavior exhibited by black students. The Supreme Court also ruled that while courts can order busing within districts to integrate the schools, other districts cannot be compelled to participate. Therefore, in response, white parents have fled the cities, leaving the inner city schools almost entirely black and leaving the black students as poorly off as they were before.

The conclusion is that the perverted liberal rules on non-discrimination do not bring non-whites to the same level as whites. Rather, they either do nothing or they bring whites down to the level of non-whites, because restaurants, schools, and airport security officials are not willing to expose themselves to the risks of letting all non-whites enjoy the same privileges that whites would enjoy in a society without non-discrimination laws. You are correct in your original posting. Non-discrimination as a matter of national policy is simply an unworkable principle. At best, it does nothing to benefit those it purports to help and at worst it harms everyone else, like the 6-year-old in this story.

Leonard replies to LA:
No, I am not aware of violent crime by pre-pubescent blacks. I am sure there must be some of it, particularly in school systems where older kids are running wild thus providing bad examples. If you or your readers know of any cases that have made the news, I would like to know. But I think that the overall rate of knife assault among young children, even in the worst inner city schools, must be very low. If it is sufficiently low, then the proportions of white/black child crime don’t matter: the entire policy is a bad idea.

LA replies:

I gather that one such incident is enough to push school districts to impose zero tolerance policies.

Terry Morris writes:

“…or we overthrow the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (which was not based on the Constitution but on judicial diktat) and allow local school districts to segregate schools by race.”

Damn straight!:

I have an idea. It’s very different from the plan our school district has put into place, and a lot simpler too—school segregation.

LA writes:

In the initial entry I failed to mention a third obvious solution to this problem, which is that whites geographically separate themselves from blacks, a growing trend frankly discussed in Time magazine. See my entry on it. But creating and maintaining communities that have no hlacks also means rejecting, at least implicitly (and to maintain such communities over the long run the rejection would have to become explicit), the liberal ideology of comprehensive non-discrimination

Mark P. writes:

These people really need to start using the legal system. If anything, then they should campaign to have the school shut down, the tax money refunded, and the parents given the chance to send their kids to private schools. There is nothing that says a city has to run a school district.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 13, 2009 01:57 PM | Send

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